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Jenniemae & James

Brooke Newman’s memoir honors the numbers-savvy maid who delighted Newman’s mathematically brilliant father even as she saved Newman’s childhood.

Jenniemae and James
By Brooke Newman
Harmony Books
320 pp., $24

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Perhaps “The Help” should have come with a warning label: Do not attempt to duplicate results at home.

Part of the reason that Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel about black women raising white children in the South in the 1950s and ’60s succeeded so well was that she was aware of the racial pitfalls (abysses really) over which her novel tread, and stepped carefully and lightly as a result.

Now, we have a memoir from one of those children, Jenniemae & James: A Memoir in Black & White.

Brooke Newman’s father was the brilliant mathematician James Newman, who came up with the mathematical concepts “googol” (they changed the spelling for the website) and googolplex. He could play chess blindfolded against five opponents simultaneously, hung out with Albert Einstein, and liked to tweak the FBI agents spying on him by conducting phone conversations in foreign languages. He also endured bouts of debilitating physical illness and depression and was a perfectionist with weaknesses for custom-made suits, bourbon, expensive cars, and women.

Newman remembers her mother playing Scrabble at night with some of his live-in lovers, who were, she writes, just there “like the dogs who slept on the living-room rug.”

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